Getting Healthy for Good: No more trying

“Do or do not… there is no try.”  — Yoda

By Laurie Marshall

There’s been a lot of “try” going on at my house this year, without a lot of success.

I have been “trying” to lose weight and get in better shape. This was going pretty well up until about two months ago when, for no reason I can put my finger on, I quit going to the gym and let some of my new eating rules slide.

My husband has been “trying” to get his boxes of keepsakes and stuff organized and off the floor of our bedroom. This may not sound like something that should take up a lot of time, but believe me when I say this project has been dragging on for moooooonnthhs…

I have “tried” to make meal plans each week. I think I did it twice. That means I didn’t do it 50 times.

I have “tried” to be a better doggie mom. I did get our guy in to the vet more regularly and provided him with fun and frolic at a doggie daycare when we were out of town, but daily walks and a fenced in play yard still haven’t happened. This has been very difficult because I’m the only person in my household who has this on their priority list. Can I get an “AMEN!!” on things that mom thinks are important that are not important to anyone else???

I have “tried” to find more time to write. This is just laughable.

My daughter has “tried” to get her one unfinished final exam done to get her high school diploma. I frequently suspect her idea of trying and mine are solar systems apart.

Obviously, I need to be more like Yoda. There is no room in my busy life for making a lot of lists and hoping and wishing and being determined… I just have to make things happen that need to happen. I do it with the daily living stuff – laundry, meals, picking up the constant messes in our living spaces, replacing the toilet paper (why does no one else in my house think this needs be done???) – but the “extras” tend to be pushed off the page in my head when I just have too much clutter taking up space in my life.

The irony is that if I de-clutter my life, there will be more space for the extras like working out and planning meals… but as you can all probably understand, it’s that life de-cluttering that is the most difficult kind. Cleaning out that junk drawer in the kitchen has nothing on cleaning out the junk drawer in my head and my daily schedule.

2011 starts tomorrow. Like every January 1st that has ever come around, the day is nothing special by itself. But it carries with it a brand new date designation that makes it perfect for Making Big Changes. I’ve already rejoined the online version of Weight Watchers, and will be creating a spreadsheet on my iPad to help me plan meals. I will also sign up for a Zumba class and work out at least two more times each week, and I will take our dog for a walk/run every evening before he goes in his crate and I go in my jammies.

I hope you are all making lists that inspire and challenge you but that are truly DO-able. Aside from the big hairy ears and green wrinkly skin – I am planning to will be more like Yoda in 2011!

Look for Laurie’s fitness tips and updates on her personal health-focused journey every other Friday on nwaMotherlode in Mom Blogs. Send questions or input to her at mamas@nwaMotherlode.com. Or click on the comment button below and share your thoughts right now! To read previous installments of Getting Healthy for Good, click HERE.

Mealtime Mama: Pass the peas, please!

black-eyed-peas-sl-257606-l.jpg

If you’re new to Arkansas, you might wonder what “lucky” foods we Southerners traditionally eat on New Year’s Day. Well, black-eyed peas, cabbage or some kind of “greens”, hog jowls (really, just any pork will do, according to some) and cornbread. Don’t even try to find a cabbage head or a can of black-eyed peas — which are supposed to represent pennies or coins and bring you good luck in the coming year — at a grocery store on New Year’s Day.

Some of the Southern mamas I polled said they eat “Hoppin’ John”, which has black-eyed peas on the ingredients list. So if you want good luck in the new year, cook up some peas, greens and cornbread. Here are some various recipes we found that include peas (we bet you’ll find one you like):

Black-eyed peas with Sausage and Barbecue Sauce (from About.com)

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound dried black-eyed peas
  • 1 pound link sausage, or your favorite
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup prepared barbecue sauce

Preparation:

Rinse, prepare, soak, and cook peas in about 3 cups water, following directions on the package. Drain and reserve half of the cooking liquid. In a skillet over medium heat, brown sausage and onions; drain off excess fat. Place peas in a 3-quart casserole; add sausage and onions. Stir in reserved liquid, brown sugar, mustard, salt, and barbecue sauce. Bake at 300° for 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Serves 6.

Hoppin’ John (from Food Network.com)

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 large ham hock
  • 1 cup onion, chopped
  • 1/2 cup celery, chopped
  • 1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • Bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
  • Salt, black pepper, and cayenne
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
  • 3 cups steamed white rice

Directions:

Heat oil in a large soup pot, add the ham hock and sear on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, cook for 4 minutes. Add the black-eyed peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender, stir occasionally. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions. Serve over rice.

Spicy Black-eyed Peas (from Food Network.com, Paula Deen)

Ingredients

  • 4 slices bacon
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 (16-ounce) package dried black-eyed peas, washed
  • 1 (12-ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups water

Directions

In a large saucepan, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove the bacon, crumble, and set aside to use as a topping for the peas. Saute the onion in the bacon drippings until tender. Add the peas, diced tomatoes and green chiles, salt, chili powder, pepper and water. Cover and cook over medium heat for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the peas are tender. Add additional water, if necessary. Serve garnished with crumbled bacon.

Easy Black-Eyed Peas (from myrecipes.com, Southern Living)

Ingredients

  • 2 1/2  pounds  fresh black-eyed or pink-eyed peas, shelled (3 cups)*
  • 3  cups  water
  • 2  large beef bouillon cubes
  • 1  medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2  (16-ounce) package kielbasa, sliced, browned, and drained (optional)

Preparation

Bring first 4 ingredients and, if desired, sausage to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce heat; simmer 40 minutes or until tender. Serve with Sweet Onion Relish.

*1 (16-ounce) package frozen black-eyed peas may be substituted. Reduce cooking time to 30 minutes or until tender.

Black-Eyed Pea and Cornbread Stuffing (from RachaelRayMag.com)

Ingredients:

  • 6 slices bacon (about 6 ounces), chopped
  • 2 shallots, finely chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1½ cups chicken broth
  • 8 ounces thickly sliced ham, chopped
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped mushrooms
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh sage
  • 6 cups cornbread chunks
  • Three 15-ounce cans black-eyed peas, drained
  • Salt and black pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°. In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium-high heat until just crisp, about 5 minutes. Add the shallots, celery, carrots and white pepper and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

Stir in the chicken broth, ham, mushrooms and sage. Add the cornbread and black-eyed peas and mix until combined. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Spoon the stuffing into 2 buttered 3-quart casserole dishes and bake, uncovered, for 40 minutes.

Mamas on Magic 107.9 on Thursdays!

When I stop by Magic 107.9 for the Thursday morning radio chat, I’ll have a somewhat unusual question for this time of year: “What do you hope does NOT change in 2011?”

All this New Year’s hype about resolutions and making major changes is getting on my nerves lately, so we’re switching things up a bit and doing an ANTI New Year’s resolution list. Instead of constantly feeling pressure to do things differently, I’d like to know what’s right about your life right now, right where you are — no extreme makeover or sweeping changes necessary.

I’d really love it if some of my fellow moms would call in to the show between 7:40 a.m. and 9 a.m. to join this discussion with me and Jennifer Irwin, host of the  Magic in the Morning show on 107.9.  Click on the graphic at right to listen to the radio live on your computer.

Here are links to some of the topics we’ll be touching on during the show. Click on the title of each article below to read it in full:

Why Resolutions Don’t Work, by Steve Errey (Stepcase Lifehack.com)

The Real Truth About Exercise, by Claudia Smith of BFit Studio

The Art of Tweaking, by Vikki Spencer

The Rockwood Files: The Year’s To-Do List

Bumps in the Road, by Laurie Marshall

5 Mintues with a Mom: Catherine Theodore

Catherine and her kids

Name: Catherine Theodore

Children’s names and ages?
Elias (age 10), Panayiota (age 6), Andreas (age 2)

Where are you from and how long have you lived in NWA?
I have lived in many places including Athens, Greece, but I consider myself to be from Blytheville, Arkansas. That is where I began my life as Mrs. Theodore and began my family! I have lived in Fayetteville for 5 1/2 years.

Tell us about your work:
My husband Michael and I own and operate Kosmos Greekafe on Dickson. We both grew up having parents in the restaurant business, so it is no surprise that this is what we ended up doing. Its tradition! We love our business, although it is a lot of work. A restaurant is like having a baby because it needs most of your attention. My husband works six days a week,  twelve hours a day. I help him out as much as I can, but my kids keep me pretty busy as well.

What’s your favorite thing about Christmas?
I love everything about Christmas, especially all the family gatherings. I really enjoy decorating my home for the holidays. There is nothing like sitting in the dark with only the twinkle of Christmas lights glowing around me.

What are you hoping to find under the tree this year?
I am really hoping for a new watch. Mine broke a couple months back and I annoy people constantly asking for the time.

Tell us about some of the traditions you’ve started with your kids:
We decorate the house together, bake Greek Christmas cookies, and we love to visit the Square to see the lights.

What are your favorite things to do in NWA?
I love everything about Fayetteville! Honestly I have never loved a place this much! We visit Devils Den, and we love all the festivals on Dickson Street. I adore Pinnacle Promenade Mall. There are so many places to explore in NWA. We haven’t seen it all yet.

If you could have a vacation anywhere this winter, where would it be?
I would love to go to the beach. We have been going every summer and we have the best time. My kids have so much fun just playing in the sand and water.

One thing I have been meaning to do is:
Print pictures to put in albums. My husband tells me that people just view their pictures on the computer, but I guess I am old-school! I want to be able to flip through an album. My youngest is 2 and I have yet to print his birth pictures. Yikes!

How do you unwind at the end of the day?
My good friend teases me because I once told her that I have a “sweet” spot on our couch that I lay on after the kids have gone to bed. I finish things around the house and then find a good show and get comfy in my special spot. I wait until Michael gets home from work and then I get his dinner ready then call it a night!

One word to sum me up …
Content!

Guess who’s getting a makeover!

Guess what Santa brought us for Christmas! He brought us a whole new look for nwaMotherlode.com, and we LOVE it! The new look includes a logo and masthead that has been freshened up and tweaked just a bit, and we’ll also have a new layout on the website that we think you’re going to really enjoy.

It has been two years since we “rearranged the furniture” here on the website, and we feel like we’re about to move into our “big girl’s room,” if you know what we mean. :-)

We’ll be unveiling the newly redesigned nwaMotherlode on Monday, January 3rd, but we wanted to give you a heads-up that it’s on its way. Don’t worry because we’ve made sure that the site is still super easy to navigate, and, as always, there will be no annoying “log-in” procedure or registration hoops to jump through. Just bookmark the site and come by often to see new articles, which we will continue to publish 7 DAYS A WEEK. We’re the only mom website in Northwest Arkansas who does that! (Not sure if we’re just ambitious or crazy… perhaps both.)

Here’s a sneak peek at the new logo you’ll see on the top of the newly designed website which goes live on January 3rd. We hope you like the makeover!

Tips: National ‘Get Organized’ Month

Are you still finding ripped up wrapping paper around the house? Did you rearrange the furniture to make way for the Christmas tree and now it’s time to move things back?

Well, January is National Get Organized Month. We gathered a few easy tips from Simple Spaces that you can use in 2011 to help your family get on the right track for the New Year:

  1. Make sure everything in your house has a “home”. Let this be a family rule – if you take it out, put it back, if you open it, close it, if you make a mess, clean it up.
  2. Make a weekly meal plan and corresponding grocery list each Sunday for the entire week. This will cut down on impromptu, frequent trips to the grocery store and last-minute drive-thru dinners.
  3. Place two-compartment hampers in designated spots and teach family members to sort their own laundry when putting it in the hamper.
  4. Clean out the refrigerator before your weekly trip to the grocery store. Throw out food that has expired and any leftovers that no one will eat. This will keep things tidy and make room for the groceries.
  5. Purchase a plastic caddy with a handle for all of your cleaning supplies. Rather than having cleaners scattered in cabinets throughout the house, put all necessary cleaners in the caddy to carry from room to room when cleaning day comes around.
  6. Set aside a time to go through each closet in your home with the respective family member. Remove all of the clothing items that no longer fit, are no longer in fashion or haven’t been worn in a year. They can be donated or taken to a local consignment store.
  7. Save your countertop space for items that are used on a daily basis. Only have two appliances out at one time and consider storing items such as mixers and utensil holders. etc. in the pantry instead.
  8. Sort through your mail next to a trash can or shredder. Deal with junk mail right on the spot instead of letting it clutter your desk or countertops.
  9. If you continually add things to your home without taking anything out, your home will soon be overflowing. You can control clutter by making a rule that, when you buy something new, something old must go.
  10. Still need help? Consider hiring a Professional Organizer to get you organized and teach you methods for long-term success!

A big thank you to Jenna Ruhe and Laurie Malloy at Simple Spaces LLC of Northwest Arkansas for providing these tips! Simple Spaces specializes in professional organizing, home staging (when you’re trying to sell) and estate and relocation services. Click here to visit the Simple Spaces website to see how they can help you organize/clean/simplify your home or business.

Good Gossip: Wrapping up 2010!

We can’t send the year 2010 off just yet without one last helping of “Good Gossip,” the deliciously no-guilt gossip column we serve up every other week here on nwaMotherlode.com. Enjoy!

Jillian Michaels

If you’re a fan of the tough-as-nails trainer Jillian Michaels on The Biggest Loser, make sure you relish the upcoming season which premieres on January 4th. It will be the last season for Jillian, who is 36. She recently tweeted “I want to take a year off TV and focus on becoming a mommy and doing more charity work.” (Source: People magazine, December 27, 2010 issue.)

Elizabeth Edwards

Mothers everywhere were saddened to hear of the passing of Elizabeth Edwards, who died of cancer on December 7th. But it is nice to know that Elizabeth was celebrating some good news shortly before her death. Over the Thanksgiving weekend, her daughter Cate, 28, who is an attorney, got engaged to her longtime boyfriend Trevor Upham, who is a medical resident in Washington, D.C. (Source: People magazine, December 27, 2010 issue.)

According to a recent issue of People magazine, the year’s Top 10 best television shows were: Mike & Molly (CBS), Modern Family (ABC), Boardwalk Empire (HBO), Community (NBC), Conan (TBS), Terriers (FX), The Big C (Showtime), The Good Wife (CBS), The Bachelor/Bachelorette (ABC), and The Walking Dead (AMC). As for the shows most watched by viewers, Neilsen results show that Dancing with the Stars topped the list, followed by American Idol, and NBC Sunday Night Football. NCIS, Grey’s Anatomy and The Mentalist also made the top 10 list of most-watched shows. (Source: People magazine, December 27, 2010 issue.)

Sandra Bullock

Here are some of the famous names that made People magazine’s list of “The 25 Most Intriguing People of 2010″: Sandra Bullock, The Obamas, Brad & Angelina, Michael Douglas, Elizabeth Smart, William & Kate,Elin Nordegren, Natalie Portman, Nicki Minaj, Sarah Palin, LeBron James, Bret Michaels, the Chilean Miners, Ricky Martin, Mark Zuckerberg, Ryan Reynolds, Christina Aguilera, Conan O’Brien, and James Franco. For the complete list, check out the December 27th issue of People.

Every year has its fads, right? Lots of mothers will remember this year’s fad as the famous Silly Bandz craze. The multi-colored rubber bracelets even showed up on celebrity wrists including Mary-Kate Olsen and Jake Gyllenhaal. As for grown-up trends, pants called “jeggings” which are part jeans and part leggings, took off in popularity this year and were worn by celebs like Heidi Klum and Jennifer Hudson. Sales of the jeggings rose to about $180 million! (Source: People magazine, December 27, 2010 issue.)

Lots of celebrities and their spouses welcomed new babies in 2010. Here are some of the blessed celebs with new babies to love: James Van Der Beek, Bethenny Frankel, Padma Lakshmi, Mario Lopez, Celine Dion, Mark McGrath, John Travolta and Kelly Preston, Tiffani Thiessen, Joey Fatone, Danica McKellar, and Rachel Dratch. (Source: People magazine, December 27, 2010 issue.)

Jack Black

We mamas aren’t the only ones who cry at Disney movies. Jack Black, who is starring in the new Gulliver’s Travels movie, said he cried three times during Toy Story 3. “When those toys hold hands as they slide down into this fire pit of doom? I haven’t been as moved by an expression of mortality in a long, long time,” said the actor. Pass the tissues! (Source: People magazine, December 27, 2010 issue.)

Good Gossip is a bi-weekly feature sponsored by RingO’s Chicken Rings, which is a USDA Child Nutrition Certified food. RingO’s (original flavor) have only 3 grams of fat per serving and NO trans fatty acids. Click here to read more nutritional info about RingO’s. Click here to see what parents are saying about the product on Facebook!


Home Design: Cutting your energy bill beautifully

By Lori Homstad, local business owner and mother of two

Do you like the game of Monopoly? Just roll the dice and you pay what you roll for your utility bill.  I’d rather get double sixes any day to the bill I just got.  SWEPCO concurred with me that our bill was above the average on our block, and since we have two boys, a swimming pool, a jacuzzi and electronics in every room, I figured as much.

Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was to turn out the lights, do the dishes by hand and unplug anything unnecessary. My family thinks I’m nuts. Instead of going back to the prairie days, I hired a professional to give us some sound advice — Gary with Home Energy Consultants. He graciously spent a couple of hours showing me many ways to really make some major changes and save big on my next bill. If you choose to call him, tell him I sent you, please.

Figuring out where your house is leaking heated air is his specialty. There’s a great DIY guide on this website:

Click here to see the DIY guide or print a copy.

I learned that tightly sealed windows are important, but covering them is even better. The best solution for this is up for debate, but one of our top-selling brands, Hunter Douglas, certifies that Duette®, Architella®, and Alustra®, Duette Architella honeycomb shades, manufactured with the UltraGlide®,  EasyRise™, LiteRise®, TruRise® or Standard Cordlock operating systems and used in conjunction with double-glazed windows are “Eligible Building Envelope Components” classified as an “insulation material or system”.

If you prefer an outside mount, we recommend DRAPES as your second best choice for keeping the warm air in and reducing the chill!

Pick a look. Any look. Drapery panels can be soft and romantic or crisp and contemporary. They can be left partially open or closed at night for privacy. They can be pleated or billowy, formal or fun. They’re not only very practical when it comes to reducing the loss of heat in your home, but they are a decorator’s secret  ammunition when setting a mood for the favorite room in the house.

If you can’t find one in our selection, you can bring us your own fabric. Espresso continues in popularity, coupled with various tones of green (wasabi, verdigris and kelp), pumpkin, and spa blue. Gray fringe is adding an elegant look to both contemporary and traditional interiors.

The classic color combination of black and white exhibits a strong presence. Coupled with strong accent hues of red, peacock, canary yellow, chartreuse and pumpkin, black and white is both a dynamic and contemporary color scheme. Natural berry tones of deep violet and beet persist in popularity and mix beautifully with subtle shades of gold, espresso, slate, Aegean blue and viridian. Teal, from a brilliant peacock to a quieter, softer aqua are also popular, blending beautifully with espresso, greens and grays.

The delicate, sparing uses of metallic accents can enhance the beauty of a fiber making for a very livable, contemporary, luxurious product.

There are many reasons why drapes should be a serious consideration in addition to blinds  and shades when insulating and decorating your home. We have listed a few, but you get the picture:

  1. Privacy. The very best privacy is found with drapes. They completely prevent anyone from seeing into your residence; “even blockig out shadows to those outside your home” . Blinds have numerous open points in between the slats that actually decrease privacy and insulation.
  2. Insulation. The number one energy efficient interior window coverings are drapes. For example, lined drapes can provide up to 50% insulation value. Whereas, horizontal mini blinds can only offer a meager 10% insulation value!
  3. Cleanable. Simply put, drapes show less dirt, fingerprints, and dust accumulation than blinds. Drapes can go years without needing to dry clean them. They can be lightly vacuumed and some you may simply place them in your washing machine.
  4. Damage Resistance. Do you have pets or smaller children who might accidentally cause harm to your window coverings? Blinds, particularly horizontal mini-blinds, are much more prone to damage than drapes. Aluminum or wood slats can be scratched, broken or chewed. Drapes, on the other hand, are really difficult to damage.
  5. Cozy. Would you like to “soften” up the appearance of your home or rooms to make them more inviting, and cozy? There is absolutely nothing better than drapes/fabrics to create a “welcome home” atmosphere.

Home decorating trimmings make the decorating even more fun. A couple of ideas:

  • Cluny lace, along with black patent leather eyelet and lace, feather, fur, iridescence, glitter and sequins add fantasy and decadence.
  • If decorating with something lighter is your style, curtains are lighter weight than heavy paneled drapes and they are usually unlined suspending  from a rod by tabs, rings or rod-pockets. You can use curtains for the common odd-shaped windows found in Northwest Arkansas to add a splash of accent color to a room or soften hard lines.

Curtains can be floor length or stop at the window sill. One specialty curtain is a café curtain that only covers the lower portion of the window, allowing natural light to shine in through the top portion of the window. They don’t stackback on a traverse rod like draperies do, so think about using them decoratively in rooms. Curtains can be pulled back by hand, tied with decorative cord or held back by ornamental hardware.

Add a topper, like a valance, to add elegance to your curtains. Fabric selection is vast so you’re sure to find one to complement your décor. These are simple to swap out, so you can dress your windows for the season.

A Budget Blinds style consultant can show you dozens of ways to customize drapes with decorative rods, cording, tassels, hems and tiebacks. There are dozens of new trendy colors to choose from. Not to mention hundreds of fabric selections are available. Our fabrics range in colors and weaves from the purest  solids to the most elegant patterns and designs. We have simple cottons and linens as well as antique silks that will satisfy the most discerning tastes while catering to those on a budget.

The Home Design category is sponsored by Budget Blinds of Northwest Arkansas. (Click here to read more about this local company.) Budget Blinds has one-hour complimentary consultations. Let their design consultants show you the vast array of options for adding value to your home at prices that will fit into your decorating budget. Call their office at 479-751-6655 or click here to visit their website.

Online games to sharpen your brain!

The learning exercises at LearningRx are often more like games. On their website, they have several “Games For Your Brain”.

What if you observed a crime being committed? Would you be a reliable witness? How observant are you…really?

Look at a series of increasingly more challenging pictures and answer questions related to them. Play this game by yourself or challenge your family to a duel after dinner. It tests and stretches your working memory, short-term memory, and recall abilities. Think it’s easy? Try for yourself!

Click here to play “What Was There?

There’s also a fun game on the site called Colored Lines. It’s kind of like Tetris meets Bejeweled. Start with 4 colored spheres. The object is to build rows of 5 or more spheres of 1 color. Once you do, they disappear. Sound easy? Not quite! Each time you move a sphere, more are added to the grid, blocking your progress. It tests your planning, logic and reasoning, and visualization skills…and patience. Plus, it’s just really, really fun!

Click here to play the game Colored Lines and others.

suzanne3-new-resized.jpg

If your child is struggling in school, there are two local LearningRx locations (see links below). Ask “the brain lady” Suzanne Miltich — pictured right — about an assessment to help pinpoint your child’s difficult areas.

Devotion in Motion: “Better than Christmas”

6 ¶ Now godliness with contentment is great gain.  1 Timothy 6:6 (NKJV)

By Bro. John L. Cash, “Country Preacher Dad”

We spent Thanksgiving in the mountains of Tennessee with some of Susan’s family this year. This trip I got to sit down and visit with our sons’ German grandmother. The boys call her “Oma” (which is German for “Grandma”) and Susan and I call her “Mutti” (which is German for “Mom”).  Although I’ve been her son-in-law for 25 years and have had numerous conversations with her, I was fascinated to hear stories that she’d never told me before. You see, Oma grew up in Germany during the battles of World War II and was familiar with the suffering that came about as a result of the Nazi regime. Life was hard for her family, and Hitler’s propaganda machine made the people believe that Americans were the source of the people’s hardship.

As Germany was facing defeat and the War was drawing to a close, food was almost impossible to come by. Bread was totally unavailable. Oma said she and her mother went out in search of any food they could purchase. The only food they could find was a slab of bacon. They were not planning on eating the bacon, but they figured they might be able to trade it for bread. Oma’s mother put the bacon in her daughter’s bag and told her to run home as fast as she could without stopping to talk to anyone. Most of all, she was not to let anything happen to the bacon.

As the little girl ran down the street, she was surprised to see American soldiers riding in army tanks and jeeps as they entered the town. One of the soldiers who was sitting atop a tank reached in his duffel bag and pulled out an orange. (Oma told me it had been ages since she had seen an orange, and this one looked to her like it was the size of a basketball.) The soldier tossed the beautiful piece of fruit to the little girl, and Oma caught it—even though her mother had warned her to never take anything from the Americans (because it might be poisoned).

Her delight with her good fortune was short-lived. In the process of catching the orange, she lost her grip on her bag, and the parcel of  bacon spilled out into the street. Her life flashed before her eyes as she saw two soldiers jump off a tank and run toward her—and the bacon. She was sure that the GI’s were going to steal it. One soldier reached down and snatched up the bacon. And then he did a very unexpected thing. He put the bacon back in the bag and handed the bag to Oma. The young girl had a profound realization: “It was then that I understood that the Americans were good. The Nazis had been lying to me!”

Later on, a group of American GI’s gave Oma’s family their battlefield food (“K-Rations”) that they had not eaten. Oma said everything the soldiers gave them came in little green cans, like the one you see here. There were tins of crackers, jam, cheese, peanut butter, and Spam. I remarked to Oma that this must have seemed like a feast, like Christmas. Oma offered a very insightful statement:  “Oh no. It was much better than Christmas.”

This story has started me to thinking. The attitude of gratitude makes a world of difference. Most of the time, a can of Spam is just a block of lunch meat. But, at other times (and if your heart is in a good place) a meal of tinned foods can be a feast.

As we reflect on the yuletide that is past and prepare for a year that’s new, let’s ask the Lord to fill our hearts with thankfulness for His gifts. Then I think all the “ordinary days” will be special…maybe even better than Christmas.

Dr. John L. Cash is the “Country Preacher Dad.” He was raised in Stuttgart, Arkansas, and has spent the last 25 years being a country preacher in the piney woods five miles south of the little town of Hickory, Mississippi. (On week days he works at a public school.)  He and his lovely wife, Susan, and his sons, Spencer (age 19) and Seth (age 16) live in the parsonage next door to the Antioch Christian Church  (where the Preacher drank a carton of  eggnog made by the “Silk” soymilk company last month because he is lactose intolerant.) He would love to hear from you in an email sent to jcash@scott.k12.ms.us.

Merry Christmas to all!

The Rockwood Files: Cruisin’ for a snoozin’

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Today I’m doing something I’ve always wanted to try but never had the opportunity to do before now. I’m writing my column from an exotic location, and it feels just as new and exciting as I’d hoped it would.

Normally, I write while sitting in my home office, which happens to be inside the kids’ playroom. I tap steadily at the keyboard while the sounds of the nearby washer and dryer drone on in the background. The work gets done and it’s business as usual.

But there’s nothing usual about today’s writing conditions. I’m happily jotting down these words in a notebook that’s splayed out across a lounge chair on the deck of a 10-story Disney cruise ship. The page is bathed in bright sunlight and lifts up now and then when the gentle Bahamian breeze hits it. The only sounds I’ve heard so far are the fluttering of a Mickey Mouse flag that’s flying high above the deck. And a little earlier a friendly waiter stopped by to ask if I’d like to try the “drink of the day”, complete with a tiny umbrella and slice of orange perched on the side. “Why, yes I would like to try it,” I said. I could TOTALLY get used to this.

This is our family’s first cruise experience. We’d heard about cruise vacations from friends and relatives who’d done it many times, and we finally saved up enough to take one of our own. We timed it so that we could celebrate two of the three kids’ birthdays while here on the ship, and Tom and I are calling it our Christmas gift to each other.

As of now, the cruise has moved into the No. 1 position on my “favorite vacations” list. And, no, Mickey Mouse and company did not pay me to say so. In fact, we paid them a good chunk of change to be here. It’s climbed to the top of my list because it’s one of the only vacations I’ve taken (with kids in tow) that has allowed me to do something every busy mother dreams of – take a nap.

The problem with most family vacations is that they’re downright exhausting. It’s easier to just stay home. You spend the majority of your time packing up, getting in and out of cars or airplanes, waiting in line, finding a place to eat, and making sure that your kids are entertained during the trip. But the cruise industry has included a feature that we parents find wildly appealing – the kids-only club. They’re called different things by different cruise lines, but the basic premise is the same: Parents check their kiddos into a kids-only area, which is supervised by several enthusiastic staff members who are paid to not only keep your kids safe but also to entertain them with fun activities and games. Genius idea, isn’t it?

But after a few hours lounging alongside the adults-only pool, Tom and I started to feel a few pangs of guilt. So we decided we’d better go collect our kids, who’d probably be anxious to see us again. We walked down to the kids’ area and asked our kids if they wanted to go swimming with us. “Not right now, Mom,” said 6-year-old Jack. “We’re about to make Flubber and then have a relay race. Can I stay here longer?” His older brother was also preoccupied with a game of Four Square among his fellow kid cruisers, and Kate was listening to a story read by someone dressed up as Belle, her favorite princess from Beauty and the Beast. So Tom and I walked back out of the kids’ club like many other parents who’d been rejected by their own offspring, and then we happily skipped back up to the adults-only pool where we plopped down on lounge chairs and ate snacks at the buffet bar.

Speaking of snacks, the only drawback of a cruise vacation is that they will stuff you so full of food that you may have to waddle back down the gangplank as you leave the ship. The restaurants, snack bars and buffet lines seem to be open nearly all the time, and the food is included in the cost of the trip so, using a warped type of vacation logic, you figure “the more I eat, the better the deal.” It’s silly, I know, but it does make more sense when a piece of cheesecake is staring you in the face.

In an hour or so, we’ll go insist on getting our kids back from the club so that we can go to dinner as a family and attend a stage show in the ship’s main theatre. One of the staff members tells me that Peter Pan will fly over the audience and it will snow inside the theatre at the end. It sounds great, but I’m already a happy cruiser. I’ve had a nap, a snack and a few precious hours of quiet and solitude.

By the time this column prints, I’ll be back home with a tan line and a pile of dirty laundry. But for now, I’m cruisin’ and snoozin’ on the high seas, and I’m wishing all of you a very Merry Christmas.

Life with Ladybug: To-do list for 2011

By Shannon Magsam

I know it’s not even Christmas Day yet, but I’m already thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. Instead of resolving NOT to do something, this year I thought I’d resolve to DO some of my favorite things more often. What’s on your list?

The top 25 things that make me giddy with pleasure, more creative, more energetic:

1.       Reading a great book in bed

2.       Reading a great book while it’s raining outside

3.       Riding horses

4.       Digging my toes in the sand at the beach

5.       Going out to eat at a favorite restaurant

6.       Chatting with a good friend

7.       Watching dramatic movies

8.       Savoring chocolate

9.      Hiking in a beautiful area

10.   Hanging out with my husband around town

11.   Having an adventure with my family trio

12.   Being greeted by my poodle

13.   Buying something I love on sale

14.   Telling Motherlode winners they won!

15.   Kissing my husband

16.   Snuggling with my daughter on the couch

17.   Eating a just-right piece of watermelon or peach

18.   Drinking Dr. Pepper

19.   Listening to awesome music on my iPod while running

20.   Eating food that makes my body function better

21.   Talking to family on the phone when we can’t see each other in person

22.   Driving with the windows rolled down and the music turned up

23.   Coming up with a new idea for Motherlode with Gwen

24.   Taking pictures with my new camera

25.   Sitting down to eat with the whole family at my parents’ house

Shannon Magsam is mom to 8-year-old Ladybug, married to Ladybug’s dad, John, and co-creator of nwaMotherlode.com. To read previously published installments of Life With Ladybug, click here. Leave a comment if you’re so inclined. I’d love to hear your deep thoughts!

Mamas on Magic 107.9 Wednesday

It’s down to the wire now, mamas. So if you need a little last-minute holiday help, tune in to Magic 107.9 this morning (we’ll be there WEDNESDAY this week) from 7:40 a.m. to 9 a.m with the mamas and radio hosts Jennifer Irwin and Guy Westmoland. We’ll tackle a few subjects that busy mamas might be interested in today, including last-minute holiday recipes, last-minute gift buying tips, how to get your house cleaned up in a BIG hurry, and so much more.

Click on the graphic at right if you’d like to listen to Magic 107.9 live on your computer. (This is THE station to hear Christmas music all day and night!)

If you’re a little freaked out that all the festivities start tomorrow, don’t worry. You’re not alone. We procrastinators are large in number, and we’re resourceful when we need to be. We’ll get it all done.

Here are a list of quick links which will take you to great articles on last-minute holiday advice:

Crisis Cleaning: Tips on getting the house presentable in a HURRY! (from Flylady.net)

Quick Tips on Wrapping Gifts (from FunTimesGuide.com)

Quick Christmas recipes for parties (from our Mealtime Mama category)

Christmas cookies that take less than 30 minutes!

Last-minute holiday gift ideas

Local moms give tips on traveling with kids (from the readers of this website!)

Military Mama: I’ll be home for Christmas

By Jade Stone

Christmas is definitely here! Conversations of holiday plans and gifts fill the air along with endless Christmas carols around every corner. This truly is one of my most favorite times of year. Everyone tries to be a little nicer, a little kinder, and even a little more generous. By now, families have made plans determining who will go where on what day. For me, this is one of the most stressful processes during the holidays. I always worry about making the rounds and making sure we get to see everyone so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings before the winter break is over. When your family lives within a 50-mile radius, it’s not such a terrible thing, however, when your family lives 4 hours away in another state, serious problems can arise.

Up until this year, we’ve always done Christmas Eve here and then on Christmas Day we do the present opening ritual and hop in the car and drive to my folks’ home in Missouri for the family dinner. But this year, as hard as it was to make this decision (and to my mom’s dismay) we decided to stay home.

I’ve always been a little conflicted about having to leave our home Christmas day instead of just enjoying the afternoon.  But this year is a little unique. Our decision was based on two things: First, we want Jess to be able to wake up and not be rushed through the morning so that we may be able to have a nice big breakfast and indulge in an afternoon of Christmas joy.

It’s one of the few Christmases that we have left to enjoy Jess’ childhood years. He’s 5 now, which is such a curious time in his life. Every day is a new discovery, but he will be 7 when Jay returns. Sure, there will still be fun to have but there’s just something about the twinkle in a child’s eyes the first couple of times he or she experiences the magic of Christmas before society begins to creep in and erase the mystery of Santa Clause!

The second reason is that this will be Jay’s last Christmas before deploying, and werre determined to make it one of the best by relishing every moment. We’ve decided to do nothing that takes away from our little family spending the holiday together. I know this may seem a little dark to some because no one wants to look at the holidays and imagine it as his or her last with family as they know it, and truthfully, none of us does that.  However, the reality is that it is always a possibility when dealing in war and to think otherwise is to be naïve.

I don’t care how many times people say “oh but everything is calming down now and Iraq is no longer a hot spot”, you will never convince me that it’s completely safe. We’re talking about a place where people use women and children as bombs to lure kind-hearted American soldiers in to rescue them before detonating those defenseless people in the hopes of killing a few soldiers. This is also the same place in which telling the difference between the friendlies and the enemies is near to impossible. By day they work as laborers on the base to earn a living for their families and then turn right around at night and run inside information to the Taliban. This is not true of all Iraqi nationals, however, the point is that it’s hard to tell the difference. In my opinion, saying that a particular warzone is safe is like saying “this fire won’t burn you.”

Deployments are no different to me. Yes, he’s been very lucky and came through a few close calls the first time around. But one has to consider that he might not be as lucky the next time. I’m really not a pessimist. I’m  a realist. Part of this is me trying to prepare myself emotionally for all the “what ifs” and, in doing that, I try to anticipate all the possible “last chances” for things and see to it that we get to spend as much time together as a family as possible. I will certainly not take our time together for granted, as I am so thankful God has blessed me with such a wonderful family who I will cherish always.

As I close, please take a moment to remember those proudly serving our country across the world as well as the families that miss them dearly.  When you take a hot shower at night and then crawl into that nice warm bed after a large home-cooked meal, remember that these individuals have sacrificed so much so that we might continue to enjoy the comforts of home.

And please don’t forget the ones who won’t return for another Christmas and the family that has lost its soldier and have only the memories of Christmas’ past to hang on to. Hug your loved ones and let them know how much you care because the truth is, none of us really knows how many more Christmases the good Lord will grant us. Let’s treat each one as though it could be the last.  Have a wonderful Christmas and may God bless you and yours now and for the years to come!

Jade welcomes your comments here as well as any suggestions you may have for her future posts. You may also e-mail her at akajadestone@yahoo.com. To read previous Military Mama posts, CLICK HERE.

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